Enhancing International Buyer-Seller Relationship Quality and Long-Term Orientation Using Emotional Intelligence: The Moderating Role of Foreign Culture.

Date01 Junio 2021
AuthorLeonidou, Leonidas C.

1 Introduction

Emotions are "coordinated responses that occur when an organism encounters meaningful stimuli that exercise its adaptive capacities" (Rottenberg and Gross 2003, p. 228). These play a crucial role in influencing an individual's interactions with other people, shaping in this way the dynamics and outcomes of their relationships with them (Jones and George 1998). However, to be able to use emotions effectively to maintain harmonious relationships, certain competences are needed, usually expressed in the form of an individual's emotional intelligence (EI) (Gross 1998). The latter is defined as the ability to process sophisticated information about one's and others' emotions, in order to utilize them to guide positive thinking and behavior in a relationship (Mayer et al. 2008). It is based on the idea that individuals have (or can develop) an ability to use their emotions and those of others rationally to create a constructive climate (Brackett et al. 2011).

Although psychology research has repeatedly confirmed the role of EI in improving relationships between interacting individuals (e.g., Lopes et al. 2003), its examination within a business context has been confined mainly to the sphere of relationships between supervisors-employees (e.g., Jordan and Troth 2011), salespersons-customers (e.g., Delpechitre et al. 2018), and service providers-consumers (e.g., Matute et al. 2018). One summary conclusion that can be derived from these studies is that the proper use of EI between parties in an interpersonal working relationship can indeed improve various positive dimensions of their interactive behavior, such as trust, satisfaction, and loyalty. It can also help individuals to adopt long-term orientation in their relationships with other people by prioritizing and positively adapting their thoughts to fluctuating emotions taking place during their interactions (Bande et al. 2015; Lin 2010).

Notwithstanding the relatively extensive research on EI within the context of interpersonal relationships, its application to inter-organizational business relationships, particularly within an international context, is virtually absent. This is despite hints in the extant literature that EI could be usefully employed in: (a) improving the quality of one's social interactions with others by devoting a positive attention to their partners, rather than focusing entirely on themselves (Lopes et al. 2004; Schutte et al. 2001); (b) allowing individuals to better appraise their strengths, weaknesses, biases, and assumptions concerning relationships with partners from diverse backgrounds, including different cultures (Chrobot-Mason and Leslie 2012); and (c) downregulating negative emotions (e.g., stress) and harnessing positive emotions (e.g., calmness) that could facilitate constructive relational adaptations (Yoo et al. 2006).

Moreover, culture regulates emotions through norms in order to ensure that behavior (driven by emotions) conforms to cultural prescriptions, allows effective functioning of society, and prevents social chaos (Matsumoto and Hwang 2012). As such, there are hints in the literature (e.g., Grandey et al. 2010; Gunkel et al. 2016) that EI itself (and its association with other variables) is influenced by cultural values, which implies that perception, understanding, management, and use of emotions are culture-dependent. Although various meta-analyses stress the existence of a moderating role played by cultural characteristics on the association between a leader's EI and subordinate job satisfaction (Miao et al. 2016), a leader's EI and subordinate task performance (Miao et al. 2018a), a person's EI and entrepreneurial intentions (Miao et al. 2018b), and a service provider's EI and service quality (Miao et al. 2019), there is virtually no research exploring how national culture moderates the influence of EI on cross-border inter-firm relational phenomena.

Furthermore, an issue of major concern in international business relationships, and particularly in exporter-importer relationships, has to do with the high discontinuity rates, probably due to the high geographic, social, and institutional distances separating the parties involved (Chang et al. 2015; Wahyuni et al. 2007). This can be mainly attributed to the lack of a long-term orientation in the relationship which is vital in: (a) gaining a long-term return on the relational, financial, and other investments made by the interacting parties over time (Kumar et al. 2003); (b) preventing partners from performing acts of self-interest that can lead to catastrophic results (Wang et al. 2020); (c) encouraging adaptations to changing conditions within and outside the working relationship, which are vital in reducing uncertainty, rigidity, and tardiness when operating in unknown environments (Johnson 1999); and (d) improving effectiveness and efficiency aspects of the working relationship and enhancing financial performance through an ongoing stream of business transactions (Stump et al. 2002).

In light of the above gaps in the literature, this article explores the role of EI in influencing the quality of the exporter-importer relationship (taking into consideration the idiosyncrasies of foreign cultures) and how this in turn contributes to the adoption of long-term orientation. (1) We are particularly interested in finding out how exporters can use their EI as a tool to enhance trust, commitment, cooperation, and satisfaction in their relationship with import buyers. We also want to show how different cultural characteristics of importers can moderate the influence of EI on each of these four elements comprising relationship quality. Finally, it is our intention to examine how each of these relationship quality dimensions can facilitate the longterm orientation of interactions between exporters and importers.

Our study contributes to the international business literature by: (a) extending the EI knowledge accumulated on interpersonal relationships to cross-border business relationships, with a particular focus on enhancing the quality of interactions between exporters and importers, which is a core issue in achieving international business success (Leonidou et al. 2014); (b) highlighting the importance of cultural contingencies in the importer's country in influencing the favorable effect of an export manager's EI on the quality of the working relationship at the inter-organizational level (Miao et al. 2018a); and (c) stressing the conducive role of achieving high levels of relationship quality (through the proper use of EI) in cultivating a long-term oriented spirit between interacting parties, which is vital in protecting their relationship against factors that may lead to its discontinuity (Barnes et al. 2010).

In the following sections, we first provide the research background by explaining EI, pinpointing its role in building relationships, and reviewing the pertinent literature on EI within an international business context. We then present the theoretical base of our study, develop the conceptual model, and formulate the research hypotheses. The next section explains the research methodology, particularly focusing on sampling procedures, construct measurement, questionnaire design, and data collection. This is followed by an analysis of the data and presentation of the results. In the final sections, we discuss the study findings, derive implications, and recommend directions for future research.

2 Research Background

2.1 Understanding Emotional Intelligence

EI is "the ability to reason validly with emotions and with emotion-related information, and to use emotions to enhance thought" (Mayer et al. 2016, p. 295). Notably, these abilities exist within the social setting in which they operate, which requires the emotionally intelligent individual to know the behavioral patterns considered appropriate and acceptable by those with whom s/he interacts, in order to comprehend and navigate the social environment (Salovey and Grewal 2005). Mayer et al. (2016) regard EI, together with social and persona] intelligence, as "hot intelligence", as it requires reasoning with information of importance to the individual and is used to manage what matters most to the individual, such as senses for social acceptance.

According to Mayer and Salovey (1997), EI comprises four branches, namely, perceiving, using, understanding, and managing emotions. Perceiving emotions refers to the ability to accurately identify emotions in one's own physical conditions and thoughts, as well as to detect and decipher emotions in faces, pictures, voices, language, and cultural artifacts (Mayer et al. 2016). Perceiving emotions requires recognizing and inputting verbal and nonverbal information from the emotion system (Salovey et al. 2008). This ability also involves distinguishing between authentic and unauthentic emotional expressions. It is the most fundamental aspect of EI, in that it enables other processing of emotional information (Mayer et al. 2016; Salovey and Grewal 2005). This ability increases the opportunity to learn more from and understand more about one's own and others' emotions and thoughts (Salovey el al. 2008).

Using emotions refers to the ability to employ emotions to facilitate cognitive activities (Salovey and Grewal 2005). It involves harnessing emotions for solving problems more effectively, better reasoning, more effective decision-making, and creative engagements (Salovey et al. 2008). This ability involves selecting problems depending on the way the current emotional state can facilitate thought, prioritizing cognitive activities by directing attention based on ongoing emotional states, and generating emotions to assist judgment and memory (Mayer et al. 2016; Salovey and Grewal 2005).

Understanding emotions is the ability to label emotions with words, to grasp emotional messages, to recognize the complex relationships among emotions, to sense...

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